All the night shift workers at a central Florida gas plant have been accounted for after a series of explosions rocked the facility late Monday.
Lt. John Herrell, a spokesman for the Lake County Sheriff's Office, said early Tuesday that 15 workers at the Blue Rhino propane plant who had previously been reported missing were found safe. Earlier, Herrell said a crew of 24 to 26 people were working at the plant on an overnight shift when the explosions occurred. He added that seven people were injured and transported to local hospitals and two employees escaped unharmed.
"At this point we have no fatalities being reported," Herrell said. "Management is comfortable saying all of those they knew were there tonight have been accounted for."
One person injured in the explosion was listed in critical condition at University of Florida Health Shands Hospital. Two others were listed in critical condition at Orlando Regional Medical Center and a spokeswoman there said a third patient was en route, also listed as critical. Herrell said some others drove themselves to area hospitals.
No injuries were reported by residents of a nearby neighborhood, and Herrell said that an evacuation zone had been reduced to a half-mile radius from an initial one-mile radius. Herrell said that officials believe the fire is contained and would not spread to another part of the plant; however, he offered no guarantee to that effect.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that the explosions began a little before 11 p.m. at the plant in Tavares, located approximately 30 miles northwest of Orlando. The plant refilled propane tanks typically used for barbecues and other uses.
Aerial footage of the scene early Tuesday morning showed fires still burning over a large area and shooting large flames and plumes of smoke into the night sky nearly two hours after the blast. Emergency crews could also be seen massing nearby.
Lake County Sheriff Gary Borders said that all the explosions happened inside the plant and that the building's roof had been blown off.
MyFoxOrlando.com reported that between 12 and 15 people, likely workers, were in the plant's parking lot at the time of the explosion. The report added that initially, the group ran toward the building after noticing something was amiss shortly before the explosion, but then ran away from the building just prior to the blasts.
Marni Whitehead, 33, who lives less than a mile from the plant, said she was in bed ready to go to sleep when she heard a loud boom.
"It was like a car had run into my house, is what I thought had happened," she said.
She ran outside and saw other neighbors outside and then they saw the explosions.
"We knew right away it was the plant, the propane plant," Whitehead said. "After that, it was just sort of panic."
Whitehead likened the explosions to Fourth of July fireworks. "And it was just boom after boom after boom," she said.
Herrell said officials believe the fire was contained and wouldn't spread to another part of the plant but they could not guarantee that.
Herrell said the plant usually has 53,000 20-pound propane tanks.
According to the Leesburg Daily Commercial, the plant was built in 2004 and employs fewer than 50 people.